For many long years we have been bemoaning the fate of the manufacturing sector in this country. As is well known, the growth of service industries has changed the emphasis in the economy away from traditional industries, but recent figures have shown some encouraging data for those of us concerned about the lack of interest in making things.
The old heavy industries like ship building and steel have largely gone or been reduced to a much smaller scale and these have been replaced by companies making different products like plastics and electronics. According to the Office of National Statistics industrial output rose by 3% in April based on a year by year comparison, and manufacturing output rose by 4.4%. The EEF, an organisation dedicated to helping manufacturing businesses believes that the improvement is robust and sustainable, with no sign of a let up.
Admittedly the improvement comes from a low base, but if it is sustainable this is excellent news particularly in view of the emphasis placed by government and others to rebalance the economy, away from the reliance on the service sector. It is interesting that, although we don’t perhaps think of ourselves as a manufacturing nation any more, the UK is still the ninth largest in the world (according to the EEF), which is certainly something to build on.
Growing at a faster rate though can create problems, recruiting the right people with the right skill set can be difficult, as can the problem of operational space or investing in plant and machinery. The resolution to these difficulties is down to the investment being made in people and premises and is the responsibly of both the government and industry. Education is vital in giving people, who have the aptitude, the opportunity to pursue a career in the manufacturing sector and give them the base from which they can benefit from the training on offer. This is an issue about which virtually everyone has a theory but ultimately, however it is achieved, providing businesses with the right personnel is a crucial element of future growth.
The investment in plant and machinery is a significant commitment but also one that needs to be made to achieve the efficiencies necessary in a competitive market, which they all seem to be these days. There is no room for sitting back on your laurels, as a lack of investment will eventually lead to a lack of competitiveness. When we talk about “manufacturing” there is a tendency to forget that technology plays a huge part in it, as it does in all our lives, and the development of software in the manufacturing process for instance creates savings by making machines run more efficiently and, sadly, using fewer workers. Much of manufacturing requires fewer people but those it needs have to be highly trained; there are fewer opportunities for unskilled labour in the modern workplace.
Investing in buildings is a difficult decision to make. There may be a full order book, but is it going to last and will any investment in premises be sustainable in the long term. There is of course always the option of renting of leasing alternative premises, but that can lead to problems of working form two sites, with the operational problems that can ensue. One option is to use a temporary building on the existing site to expand space, but that is not necessarily right for everyone, so best to get advice from a reliable supplier.
Expansion has its problems and doubtless some parts of the manufacturing industry are facing them now, but overall these problems are far more preferable to face than the alternative of decline and decay of once great industries.